A spot of milk with your tea at Townshend's, Bend's new downtown teahouse.As the menu at Townshend's Tea Company states, tea has been relegated second-class status in the States. Ever since rogue colonists tossed their British rulers' supply overboard into Boston harbor, tea has taken a back seat to the more pungent, and stimulating, coffee bean. The new downtown teashop, Townshend's, embraces that underdog reputation, offering an unabashed sanctuary for tea leaves and tea lovers.
The location that housed Pfundementals for as many years as I can remember has been cleaned up, buffed out and infused with a tea-worthy atmosphere. Retro, antique and modern furniture blend with the polished concrete floors, pillowed benches and brick walls to lend a tranquil, but energetic, climate that is imbued with alternative atmospheric music. The menu is extensive and slightly intimidating for the tea neophyte. To alleviate some of the possible stress of deciding from more than 100 teas and infusions, owner Matt Thomas has divided the selections into types of teas such as white, rooibos and oolong; rare and top-grade teas like matcha, bao zhong and pu-erh wang; as well as separating out the infusions which are listed under "Apothecary".
"Apothecary" blends include a fix for a hangover (rosemary, feverfew, alfalfa, dandelion root, ginger, peppermint and mate), an infusion to sooth a tender throat (cardamom, cherry bark, slippery elm, clove, and rooibos) and even one entitled "Love" that - although I don't know if it's supposed to bring love on, make it better, or ward it off - I think I need to give it a try.
All the teas and infusions are numbered or lettered and have small corked bottles available for drinkers to "sample" the aroma of the dried leaf. There are the popular latte-style drinks listed at the counter, including a coconut maté that includes coconut shavings, unsmoked maté, honey, and milk. Another delicious concoction for black tea lovers is the vanilla Earl Gray. For this drink, Townshend's infuses black tea with oil of bergamot and vanilla. The concoction is served lightly sweetened with steamed milk.
Thomas knows what his costumers like. He's been in business for two years in Portland. And his tidy spot on the bohemian, up-and-coming NE Alberta Street has been successful enough to warrant expansion. Lucky for us, he thought of Bend.
Open just a little more than a week, Townshend's has been discovered by a select group of sippers and laptop users. What they've found is a quiet place with free WI-FI and well-brewed pots of tea for as little as $1.50. Served in a crystal clear glass warmed over a tiny candle cradled in a pedestal, the experience is as aesthetically pleasing as it is restorative.
Townshend's also serves Bubble Tea - a drink made with milk or non-dairy creamer, tea and pearls of tapioca that can be served sweet and hot or cold. Townshend's uses fruit concentrates from Taiwan (the country of origin for this dessert drink) and offers three different kinds of pearls: real tapioca cooked for an hour, coconut jellies and aloe jellies. The drinks are served in the traditional plastic cups with a machine-sealed top and a straw the diameter of my thumb.
About half of Townshend's business is selling bulk teas. Thomas works with 16 different distributors of tea, maté and herbs, offering a comprehensive selection of teas to brew at home. He also carries all sorts of tea accouterments - storage canisters, infusers, bombillas for maté drinking, cups, press pots and - of course - a number of basic and not-so-basic teapots.
Although most sources say that the caffeine content of black tea is not that much less then coffee, there is something healthy-feeling about drinking tea. Maybe it's all those antioxidants that get us psychologically soothed as we gulp down infused leaf. Or maybe it's the feeling we're bucking the trend by sipping something as delicate as white tea, or as healthy as kukicha roasted twig tea. Combine that with the ambiance of Townshend's and you just can't feel anything but good about your beverage choices.
Townshend's Tea Company
835 NW Bond Street, 312-2001. Open daily 9am-10pm. www.townshendstea.com